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Screen » Film

Integrity First: Stone breaks out the kid gloves for W.

Over the falls in a barrelAt first I thought I was watching a trick movie. This is no scathing statement on the evils of the

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Over the falls in a barrelAt first I thought I was watching a trick movie. This is no scathing statement on the evils of the Bush administration, nor does it take a feel-good, pro-Bush stance. W. paints an unflattering yet surprisingly sympathetic picture of George W. Bush. This is perhaps even more surprising given the man at the helm of the film, Oliver Stone. Where's the conspiracy theory? Where's the self-righteous anger? I get the distinct impression he doesn't want to kick a dead horse when it's down.

Stone has said that while George W. Bush was completely unfit to be president, he also learned that he's not such a bad guy. And so it goes in this saga of W (Josh Brolin). We get to see the fraternity days and his penchant of calling everyone by nick names, his years of heavy drinking and carousing, his stammering courtship of Laura Bush (Elizabeth Banks), his relationship with his pastor (a big and beefy Stacy Keach) and his subsequent switch from booze to born again. But the main crux of the movie is his relationship with "Poppy," aka Bush senior (James Cromwell), and his inability to please him. It's the age-old Oedipal story. After dodging all responsibility. Bush still wants to please his dad, and finds God in the process. In essence, he spends the rest of the movie trying to please both of his fathers: the biological and the heavenly one.


Members of the administration are depicted in almost cartoon fashion, and the people we know to be the most influential, Karl Rove (Toby Jones) and Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), come off as sidekicks. We see the conniving Rove's influence and Cheney's slick methods of managing the President, despite Bush's insistence, "Hey now remember, I tell you what to do-I'm the decider."

The acting is all good with the exception of Scott Glenn as Rumsfeld, who just glosses over his lines. Brolin (No Country for Old Men) has Bush down for the most part, but there are times when his portrayal slips into a comedic impersonation. After eight years, it's difficult to watch a portrayal of Bush and not know what's coming: the smirk, the chortle, the deer in the headlights look - and it's all there, though I did notice that this W. was remarkably able to complete his sentences. Dreyfuss absolutely embodies Cheney, masking his difference in stature with the real VP by leaning and peering in from the background.

I'm most curious about the timing of this release. Anyone on the planet knows these characters, but to tell their story now implies that it will reveal some kind of conspiracy, crime or deception relevant to the election. I was ready to see a story of evil men manipulating a moron puppet president, but it's much more understated than that. It's downright humorous to see the formulation of the term "axis of evil." It's like Stone held back and let us see (like flies on the wall) how messed up things get behind closed doors-it's frighteningly civil.

By the end of the film you may not have learned anything new, but you just might have a different opinion of our 43rd president. In some ways this movie is a classic tragedy. The story of an unlovable loser who just wants to earn his daddy's appreciation, but doesn't want to do anything for it. The movie reads as fiction, but then again, can't the same be said of W's years as president? With the constant barrage from the real Bush administration and its innumerable blunders in the world today, it's hard to stomach a softer, kinder version of the saga of GW. The film shows how the seemingly steadfast Bush came into this presidency scathed and bewildered and most likely will leave that way too. Focusing on a sitting President with the lowest approval rating ever, W. comes off like old news not fit to print.

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